A victory on Friday will give the Penticton Lakers something they haven’t had yet — two wins in a row.
The Lakers finished the first quarter of their Kootenay International Junior Hockey League season with four wins. However, they have dealt with suspensions and player injuries.
The opponent for the Lakers (5-11-0) tonight are the Kamloops Storm (8-5-2-2) who are currently on a two-game losing skid.
Lakers coach Robert Dirk said the Storm might be going through a rough patch, but they are a good hockey club.
“They have more wins than we do,” he said. “They have always been consistently strong the last few years.”
The Storm’s most recent loss was a 6-1 thumping at the hands of the Castlegar Rebels in Castlegar on Oct. 28. The night before they lost to the Nelson Leafs 4-2. The two games before that resulted in a tie in Chase against the Heat and a 4-3 loss to the North Okanagan Knights.
Storm coach Brad Priestlay said their focus will be sticking to their game plan of being aggressive and getting shots and bodies to the net.
“The last few games we have gone away from it,” said Priestlay. “Keeping things simple and working hard.”
Leading the Storm on offense are defenceman Daniel Buchanan (seven goals, 21 points) and Spencer Schoech (five goals, 20 points). Four of Buchanan’s goals have come on the power play, one was a game winner. Josh Rasmussen has been the most dangerous forward scoring seven goals and adding 12 assists.
Priestlay said it’s good to have two defenceman contributing the way they are, adding that a lot of their points come on the man advantage.
“It makes other teams take a look to see what’s going on,” he said.
Priestlay also said he knows his team must be ready to play.
“Penticton was a team the worked hard, battled hard (last year),” he continued. “I’m looking forward to much of the same from them, hard-nosed type game. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be exciting.”
“We have to come prepared to play like we did on Sunday,” said Dirk, referring to his team’s 5-1 victory against the Kimberley Dynamiters.
A 3-0 loss to the Summerland Steam angered Dirk who let his players know about it. They responded in a big way. The line of Kale Erickson, Phillip Cameron and newly acquired Tyler Wagner erupted for three goals and four assists. Dylan Gamble and Paulsen Lautard scored the other two goals. Lautard’s proved to be the winner.
“They came out and played very well against the top team in the east,” said Dirk. “It’s a Jekyll and Hyde team right now. When they want to play to their capabilities, they can beat anybody.”
The focus against the Storm will be to continue scoring and play strong defense. Dirk said he knows his team is getting better. The big difference from four or five weeks ago is that the younger guys are learning what it takes to play in the league.
“The league is underrated,” said Dirk. “It’s a very good hockey league. Guys coming in think its going to be easy.”
Good news for the Lakers is that Ryan Carson, who has dressed for just three games, is almost ready to return from his injury, as are Jonah Boston, who is recovering from a concussion, and defenceman Cam Rout. The Lakers will also be adding another forward this week.
Dirk said the line of Erickson, Cameron and Wagner has clicked. In their last four games, Erickson has three goals and six points, Wagner, a pick up from the Grand Forks Border Bruins, has seven assists and Cameron has three goals and six points.
“When they play well they give us an opportunity to win,” he added. “As long as they continue to produce well they will stay together.”
Dirk likes that Wagner, 19, brings a veteran presence on the ice and in the room. He also likes Wagner’s vision.
“He can make plays,” said Dirk.
Wagner had two goals and five points in 10 games with the Border Bruins prior to joining the Lakers.
Last season, Wagner had six goals and eight points in 26 games.